Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Idiots, Losers and Non-Achievers

The debate is on again.  A middle school in Calgary has decided to end the practice of year end awards and replace it with a broader system of recognition.  The responses to the article in the National Post  ( are very negative and perhaps those responses themselves point to a need for change.

The comments that support this traditional practice use statements and language such as the following to support their argument:

"Thank our "progressive" education system, we don't reward those who work hard instead help the mediocre fool themselves into believing we are all "equal" (from an achievement / skills point of view)."

"Why demote the winners, our future, to appease the losers?"

We should push the non-achievers to emulate the performance and behaviours of achievers, not the other way around"

And my favourite. . .   "The world has their share of winners and losers, and geniuses and idiots. No amount of PC bull can change the fact that some are more able than others."

Winners and losers.  Non-Achievers and achievers.  Hard workers versus the mediocre.  Geniuses and idiots.  Is this what these people have left school believing about themselves and their classmates?  Is this what they want to perpetuate?

These statements make me even more sure that it is time for a change.  Contrary to what many people believe the education of our children is not meant to be a competition full of 'winners' and 'losers'. 

I was raised to do my best, to work hard and to be a good person.  Sometimes I won awards, sometimes I didn't.  This never changed how hard I worked, how much I achieved, how I viewed myself and my classmates.  Education is not about having one winner and twenty-nine losers every time an assignment is completed.  Working hard is not about being the best.   Working hard to be your best helps you live a fulfilling life and makes you proud of yourself.  You don't work hard because you want to 'win' some award or even view yourself as the 'best', you work hard because it's the right thing to do.

"There is no success. No failure. Only a fuzzy middle." Not winning an award should not be synonymous with failure.  There are many successful people who have never won an award.  There are many successful people who are successful because of their talent, their passion and their dedication. They are not motivated by looking over their shoulder to see where they are on the 'winner' and 'loser' scale or if they are stuck 'in the fuzzy middle'.

"Psychologically, humans crave praise and feedback, which serve as motivating incentives for further, future performance."  This quote was used to support the continuance of awards programs when I believe it does exactly the opposite.  If praise and feedback (this is a whole other blog) serve to motivate, shouldn't schools be using this for all students.  Don't we want all students to be motivated?

The perception of people that the goal is to make everyone 'equal' is also ridiculous.  Do you really think that by removing awards students won't know where they stand.  The outstanding athlete, academic, musician, artist, problem solver, scientist and world citizen will still be outstanding.  Nothing will change the fact that students (and adults) are all blessed with different talents and that those talents will shine through regardless of whether or not awards ceremonies exist.  Most of us know we are not 'the best' but it doesn't stop us from striving to be 'our best'.

Nothing will change the fact that some students come to school with full bellies, freshly cleaned clothes and an army of support behind them while others come hungry and dirty with only a few supports in place.  Our job is to support all of these students, to educate all of them, to motivate all of them and to help all of them recognize their own strengths and talents.  Not just the 'winners', 'geniuses' and 'achievers', but ALL students.

I have no understanding of how recognizing more students in more meaningful ways can create such negative dialogue. I am ashamed of being part of an education system that has produced thinkers who believe that children who do not step onto that podium in June (and that's the majority) to receive their 'award'  are 'idiots', 'non-achievers' and 'losers'.  And by the way, school is the 'real' world for everyone within its walls.

It's time for a change folks.  It's time.


  1. Roxanne - thank you again for initiating this change at Kent as I have learned so much from this ride. The one positive that all this media attention is doing is that we can ask the following question: if public school is for all children... is an awards ceremony that honours a select few and is held at the END of the year the BEST we can do to honour all children? More and more people are starting to question the tradition of awards and I am honoured to say that I work at a school that has worked to create other avenues to more regularly and authentically honour kids. Thanks for your mentorship with this.

    1. Ah Chris, if you only knew how this article made my blood boil :) I continue to be amazed by the negative response to what I view as positive progress. How can it be wrong to recognize the strengths and gifts of children? The only answer is, it can't be! Kudos to all of you out there who continue to impact the system and the children within that very "real" world that they live in.

    2. What I meant to say was, the response to this article, not the article itself.

  2. thank-you Roxanne, for a refreshing perspective and one that sees that there is greatness to be enabled and recognized in all children. All children want to 'be something' - unfortunately too many feel that they can't be good at anything. The latent desire for significance that lies in all of us can be frustrated and lie unfulfilled in too many young lives. We see the results all around us in society when this is finally 'fulfilled' in the wrong ways later in many young adults lives. When the system is slanted too far to one side, and the majority children are missing a sense of being understood for who they are and what they contribute, then we are missing the mark as parents and educators. In all this personal excellence can still be encourage and personal leadership can be exercised.

    1. Thanks for your feedback and your insights, Brian. I LOVE your last line - personal excellence and personal leadership are something we are all capable of and should aspire to, within the system and without.